Summary: Harry makes a foray into his dark side. With shattering consequences.
Spoilers: It's best to have read all the HP books.
Disclaimer: All characters belong to JK Rowling, her publisher and her many, many well-paid lawyers. I am NOT making any money off this, nor am I trying to infringe on anyone's copyright. Believe that.
Authors' Notes: I dedicate this fic to ProphecyGurl. If it'd not been for her and our chats, this story would not exist. So. Praise her, damn you!
Questions, Comments, Suggestions: Send to donnacsoprano76 AT yahoo DOT com. All flames are read, laughed at then deleted with extreme prejudice.
"Ooo I've been dirt ...
And I don't care ..."
- "Dirt", Depeche Mode
"Ruined In A Day"
by Net Girl
Harry Potter sat bolt upright in bed, panting heavily. His eyes were wide open but the world around him was blurry. One hand fumbled at the bedside table for his glasses while the other pushed back the mass of sweat-laden hair from his forehead. Breathing in and out slowly, he settled his glasses in place.
The room was empty. Everyone else was up and probably at breakfast, preparing for the school day. Today was Halloween - the last one Harry would spend at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This was one day in the school year everyone looked forward to. Almost everyone. While the other students enjoyed the lavish party that the school hosted on Halloween night, Harry couldn't escape the tragic anniversary that shared the day.
He closed his eyes as he pressed the heel of his right hand to his forehead. The nightmares were becoming worse. His scar pained him nearly non-stop in the last two weeks. That only happened when Voldemort was up to something. A school year wouldn't be complete without him.
Throwing back the blankets, he climbed out of bed and ambled over to the mirrored dresser. Both hands rested on the dresser itself so he could remain steady. Slowly, he lifted his head and stared at his reflection. He almost didn't recognize himself.
The nights of fitful sleep had taken their toll on his physical appearance. Along with the beginnings of dark circles under his eyes, his eyes themselves had an emptiness in them. In general, he looked as though he'd been run over by a truck. He couldn't hide this from his friends for much longer, and he had no plans to tell them about any of it unless he had to.
He allowed his head to bow again, eyes half closing as he did so. The nightmares and what went on in side of his mind lately were much more distressing than his outward appearance. Nightmares that he could only describe as visions of Hell tortured him. Mass killings of so many innocent people - Muggle and magic alike - the pain inflicted on other human beings troubled him. But not as much as how he felt about them when he thought back on them.
Tuning out of the lectures from his professors, Harry revisited those horrors in his mind during classes. A part of him, a part that had become increasingly dominant in the last few weeks, didn't much care. The consequences of the atrocities perpetrated in the dreams, they simply didn't exist. No consequences. No guilt. Not a care for any of it.
His eyes opened fully. What's happening to me? he wondered. His muscles tensed momentarily when the scar suddenly throbbed. He winced. Am I going mad? Is this Voldemort's newest plan against me? To make me insane?
The sounds of students' voices caught his attention. He looked over his shoulder, watching the door anxiously, hoping that none of his roommates would return. A minute passed. No one came. He was still alone. He relaxed.
Not even Ron or Hermione knew about the nightmares. He thought Ron might've suspected something but his best friend never made any mention of it while they were awake. Usually, Ron minded his own business where Harry was concerned. Usually. Hermione, on the other hand, did not. If she sensed that anything was amiss, she'd have confronted him about it by now.
Moving away from the mirror, he set himself to getting dressed for the school day. If he hid in his room, that would certainly bring unwanted attention to him. He would do as he'd done yesterday and the day before that and the one before that; he would get dressed, go to class, and not say a word to anyone.
Once dressed, he opened the drawer that held his school robes. His hand froze inches above the black robe adorned with the Gryffindor emblem.
"Not Slytherin, not Slytherin," he murmured, absently. That was what he'd so fervently repeated when McGonagall placed the Sorting Hat on his head six years ago.
'You could be great, you know, it's all here in your head,' the Sorting Hat whispered in his ear as a response to his pleas. 'And Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that.'
His eyes remained riveted to the lion that rested against the red and gold background. His parents had been Gryffindors. So had McGonagall and Dumbledore. Every person who'd been a Gryffindor went on to be an honorable witch or wizard. Certainly none of them would have felt the way Harry Potter did about those nightmares. Albus Dumbledore would be utterly appalled by them, he was sure.
Then, in the midst of all his pondering, before his eyes - he wasn't quite sure if it was real or a hallucination - the lion on the robe's crest transformed into a silver serpent. Its forked tongue jutted in and out of its mouth. The red and gold, too, changed but into the silver and green colors of Slytherin House.
"Harry ... Potter ..." a hissing voice from somewhere around him whispered. The eye of the serpent glowed red and grew brighter as the voice calling Harry's name became louder. The result of both was hypnotic to him. He couldn't move a muscle; only stare at the serpent before him.
There's not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn't in Slytherin, Hagrid's voice rumbled over the call of the other.
Suddenly, the door to his room flew open and startled him. The red-eyed serpent instantly vanished along with the Slytherin crest and snapped back into the Gryffindor emblem again. Also, the voice was gone.
Ron Weasley paid no mind to Harry as he went over to his own dresser and began to toss things around. Apparently, he was searching for something. A few moments later, he breathed an audible sigh of relief.
"There you are!" he declared to the item he'd found. He beamed proudly as he held up the button all House prefects wore. "Thought I'd lost you." He pinned the button to his rob and that's when he noticed Harry. "Good mornin'."
Harry stood motionless by his open drawer, his hand still poised over the robe he'd intended to grab from it. He'd not taken a single breath since Ron entered the room. Had Ron heard the voice? He didn't appear to have. It's all in your mind, Harry, he thought. Ron didn't hear it because it's in your head.
"It's about time you got up," Ron continued. He patted the prefect button that was now securely fastened to his robe then looked to his friend. "You'll miss all the fun. Last year here, you know. Mum says we should make the very best of it." His mouth quirked. "Then again, when she said that to Fred and George, they put Pow-Pow Powder in one of Snape's potions bottles. D'you remember that, Harry? Might've been the first time Snape ever had any color in his face."
Harry didn't reply. Instead, he snatched the robe from the drawer and put it on. Of all things, Ron had to leave his bloody prefect button behind. Ron was so proud of himself for achieving the honor he'd slept with the button under his pillow the entire summer before seventh year.
Ron frowned as Harry quietly put on his robe. "Are you okay?" he asked. One eyebrow arched when Harry looked at him. "You're never this quiet unless something's wrong, Harry. Is anything bothering you?"
"It's Halloween, Ron, what could possibly be bothering me?" A trace of sarcasm colored the response from Harry but he doubted it would register with Ron. He quickly smoothed his hair down with his hands then decided that was good enough. It wasn't as though having neat hair would erase all of his other troubles.
Ron watched Harry carefully then it hit him. Halloween. Of course! How could I have been so stupid? Sympathetic expression now on his face, he quietly apologized to Harry. "I'm sorry. I'd forgotten exactly what this day is to you."
Harry avoided eye contact with Ron as he walked by, headed out of their room. "Why should you be sorry, Ron? Did you kill my parents?"
Ron's face screwed up in confusion then he took off after Harry. "Hey, wait a minute now." He put a hand on Harry's shoulder to stop him. "What's the matter? And it's more than just the date, too."
He stared at Ron for a minute. Ron had been through thick and thin during all of his time at Hogwarts. Since day one, he'd seen so much of what Voldemort was capable of, yet he remained Harry's friend. So did Hermione Granger. Didn't they care about themselves? Did they not realize that people close to Harry Potter tended to be viciously murdered?
"Ron ... " he quietly began. A pause. "Do you ... ever wonder if this worth it?"
Ron blinked. "What are you talking about? Is what worth it?"
"Being who we are, I mean." He brought up a hand, unknowingly brushing it over the Gryffindor patch on his own robe but he never took his eyes off Ron. "Do you ever wonder if it's worth it?"
Ron, however, was still completely lost. "I'm not following. Who else can we be but ourselves?"
Harry's hand dropped to his side. This wasn't a discussion to have with Ron. He wouldn't understand, anyway. He wasn't sure it was something anyone else could understand - except perhaps Tom Riddle.
"Never mind," he said, shaking his head. "Let's just eat." Even though he wasn't hungry, Ron more than likely was and it was the best way to change the subject.
"All right." Ron kept an eye on Harry as they left the Gryffindor House and made their way to the Great Hall where the rest of the students had assembled for breakfast.
Harry paid little attention to Ron's chatter as they passed by the Slytherin table. He kept his eyes on Draco Malfoy, who was flanked, as always, by Crabbe and Goyle. Nearly everyone on Malfoy's end of the table hung on the words that came from the slick-haired Slytherin's mouth. He'd never given it much thought before then but Draco Malfoy was almost always in a good mood. Always laughing it up with those from his House, unless Harry had done something to ruin Draco's day. And those days were few and far between lately.
Draco finished his story and everyone around him erupted into raucous laughter. Malfoy himself beamed, rather pleased with the crowd's reaction. Then he happened to catch Harry staring at him. Placing a hand near his mouth, he leaned over to his tablemates and said something. All the while, he never broke eye contact with Harry. His eyes narrowed as he sat back in his chair and those on his end all turned to glare at Harry.
Unfazed by it, Harry continued to stare. It seemed that being morally void was the best way to live. Draco did whatever he wanted with no fear of consequences because - in his world - they didn't exist. No consequences, no guilt. Freedom. He envied that about Draco. And he found that he wanted it.
"Ron?" Hermione Granger's voice snapped him back into reality. The voices and the hustle/bustle of the Hall returned like someone had turned up the sound on a radio. Thoughts of Malfoy gone, he joined the rest of his friends at the Gryffindor table.
"Did you find it?" Hermione asked Ron as he sat down in the seat next to her. She spotted the prefect button on his robe before he could answer. "Oh, you did! See? Didn't I tell you it would be in the last place you'd think to look? You should listen to me more often, I think."
"Don't we listen to you enough already?" Ron replied with a pained expression on his face. He jumped when Hermione kicked him in the shin under the table. "Ow."
Hermione smiled smugly when Ron leaned over to rub his leg then she turned to Harry. "And it's about time you woke up, Harry. I was just about to send Dumbledore after you -" She stopped in mid-sentence when she had a good look at him. "Harry, you look simply awful!" she exclaimed.
He shrugged carelessly. He knew exactly how he looked and he didn't need her telling him that. Glancing over his shoulder at the Slytherin table, he saw that Malfoy was in the middle of telling another of his tales, his hands waving about as he spoke to his captive audience.
Hermione refused to be ignored. "Are you ill?" she pressed as she leaned over the top of their table. Her eyes squinted as she studied Harry. "If you are, I'd suggest you see Madam Pomfrey before it gets any worse," she admonished. "I have a heavy course load this year, Harry, and I can't spare any of my time to help you catch up if you miss too many lessons -"
"I never said I was sick," he snapped at her as he turned in his seat. "And I don't need your help to keep up, either, Hermione. Sometimes, what the lesson calls for isn't in the books." He hadn't realized how vicious the response was until he saw how everyone around him stared. This was easily the most horrible thing he'd said to anyone let alone Hermione. He didn't much care.
Across the table, the stunned Hermione stared at Harry. The words wounded her more deeply than she would publicly admit; her cheeks warmed with embarrassment and anger. She didn't need to be told what he'd meant by that last portion. He'd made it all too clear.
"Well, then," she tightly began. She loudly stacked her books together and stood. "If that's the way you feel about me, Harry, you won't miss me if I leave." Turning sharply on her heel, she went to the other end of the table to sit with Neville Longbottom and Seamus Finnigan.
Ron looked from Hermione over to Harry. He couldn't believe that what had just happened ... happened. He gaped at Harry, wide eyed. Sure, Hermione irritated him, too, but he would never dream of speaking to her that way and certainly never in front of the entire student body.
"Harry, what's gotten into you?"
Harry turned his back on Ron, ignoring the question. He saw several other Gryffindors and a few Hufflepuffs who'd been within earshot gaping at him. He pretended not to notice them for the rest of breakfast as well.
Occasionally, Ron glanced at Harry both angry at how he'd treated Hermione and worried about him. Harry had taken an unhealthy interest in the Slytherin table this morning. In the last few weeks, he'd been withdrawn but never so vile as he was earlier. Insults like that bounced easily off of Hermione when it came from the likes of Malfoy, she didn't care about him. This was different.
Soon, the Hall began to clear of its students. As Harry stood he came face to face with Hermione. The two of them exchanged a tense look then she hugged her books close to her chest, stuck up her nose and stepped around him. Harry only shook his head. She'd stay that way until he apologized. If he even apologized.
"Harry." Ron braced himself for any response when Harry turned around. When no snide remark came, he folded his arms across his chest and narrowed his gaze at his friend. "Why did you do that? She's only concerned about you."
"That's Hermione's problem, then." He left a baffled Ron standing by the table. He was nearly out of the Hall when Draco Malfoy's voice brought him to a halt.
"Trouble with your friends, Potter?" Malfoy asked. He, Goyle and Crabbe moved to block Harry's path out of the Hall. One corner of Draco's mouth curled up into a wicked grin. "If I were you, I'd want to keep the friends I had, no matter how pathetic."
"Is that right?" asked Harry, taking a step closer to Draco. Draco intimidated no one with any sense - he was more of a pest than anything. If only he would realize that, thought Harry. "I suppose that's the same reason you're always seen with these two?" He nodded towards Crabbe and Goyle, who were in their usual flanking positions. His voice dropped to a more conspiratorial level as he added, "That is the reason for it, isn't it, Malfoy?"
The grin on the other boy's face slowly melted away. "And just what would you mean by that?" he growled through gritted teeth.
Harry nonchalantly shrugged. "What did you think I meant?" He met Malfoy's gaze, enjoying that restrained rage he saw in Draco's eyes. He waited for a response and when none came, he pushed Malfoy to the side so he could continue on. "Get out of my way."
"What'd you do, Potter?" Draco asked with an amused yet dark grin on his face. "Did you wake up this morning and think, 'Perhaps I'll play as though I'm a bad boy today'?" His eyes narrowed on Harry when Harry turned around. "Is that what you think you are?"
"More than you'll ever be," was the cold, even reply from Harry. He saw, for just a second, a flicker of fear in Draco Malfoy's eyes. He shifted his gaze to Crabbe and Goyle. Malfoy's buffoons were equally at a loss for words. Deep inside, Harry cherished the feeling of superiority. He'd truly challenged Draco's "position". Malfoy was nothing. He was simply riding on the coattails of the family name.
He could've left Draco standing there in the Hall, speechless. However, a voice inside urged him to take it further.
"In case you've forgotten," he continued as he stepped closer to Malfoy. "Some wizarding families are better than others. Lucky for you, isn't it? If that weren't so, yours wouldn't be able to keep you here." He paused, his head cocking slightly to the left. "You're still not much of a wizard, are you, Draco?"
The students who'd gathered around to watch the confrontation fell deafly silent as they awaited Malfoy's response.
Draco's jaw tightened as he glared at Harry, his pale complexion even more blanched than usual. The silence had his attention as well as the fact that they had an audience. Potter had thrown down the gauntlet; he couldn't back away.
"At least I still have a family, Potter," he hissed after a lengthy silence. His smarmy smirk returned again when the students murmured.
Ginny Weasley stood on tiptoes and tried desperately to see over the shoulders of a couple of Ravenclaw fifth years in front of her. She could barely see Harry facing off with Draco and only heard bits of the conversation. She strained to see more.
Harry's jaw loosened after a minute and a small smile crept to his face. "I wouldn't be so sure about that if I were you, Draco." His eyes glinted wickedly behind his glasses. "As loyal as they are, they might switch sides again. You-Know-Who wouldn't like that, would he?"
Malfoy had no snappy response to that. He only stood in the Hall, staring at Harry's now retreating figure. He glanced at the remaining students, catching the disappointment on the faces of his fellow Slytherins. He shifted uncomfortably in place. Potter had humiliated him like never before in front of half the school. By the end of the day, the whole school would know about it.
"Come on," he snapped as he looked over to Crabbe and Goyle. The two boys remained in place, unable to comprehend what had taken place. "Are you deaf? I said, come on!" Without waiting for them, he pushed his way through the crowd.
"What happened?" someone asked Ginny as the crowd broke up and the students headed for their classes. "What did Harry say?"
Ginny craned her neck to get a look at Malfoy. Draco pulled away from Pansy Parkinson as she tried to talk to him. Obviously, whatever Harry had said to Draco upset him terribly. For the briefest of moments, she felt sorry for him.
"Let's go, Ginny," another girl said, tugging at Ginny's robe. "I don't want to be late to Potions!"
Throughout his morning classes, Harry paid no attention to lecture or even pretended to be interested in the subject matter. He sat alone in the back of his classes, thinking. He didn't need to worry about interruption since Hermione refused to speak to him, and Ron appeared to be following her lead. Not that that was surprising on Ron's part. He thought about a lot of things: his confrontation with Draco, Voldemort, his parents, and if he'd been sorted into the wrong House, among other things.
By the time the lunch hour arrived, he'd said less than two words to any other student. At his place at the very end of the Gryffindor table, far away from Ron and Hermione, he sat with his back to them. Food lay untouched on the plate by him; he wasn't hungry in the least. Down the table, he heard the muffled voices of Ron and Hermione. They were talking to their other friends about that morning. The Malfoy incident had become the day's gossip as well.
Head resting on his hand, he thought back on it. It felt so terribly good, not only because Malfoy deserved it, but because it had been fun. He thoroughly reveled in twisting the knife in Malfoy and doing it so well that he'd managed to upset him. The experience was liberating. The best part was that he felt no guilt at all for what'd he'd said even though another part of him insisted that he should.
He scanned the students at the other tables: the Ravenclaws, the Hufflepuffs, and the Slytherins. From the first years to the seventh years, he saw them through different eyes. These people, and likely everyone they knew, had grown up knowing the name Harry Potter. A name usually uttered in conjunction with Voldemort's.
Why shouldn't he be known? He was the Boy Who Lived, after all. He'd lost parents he'd never known to Voldemort and lived eleven years of his life in Hell. Why shouldn't they know his name? Why shouldn't everyone know who he was and respect it?
His gaze shifted over to the Slytherin table and he caught Malfoy averting his eyes. Even after what happened that morning, Malfoy managed to retain his credibility among his friends. Of course, that was typical Slytherin behavior. Despite being publicly humiliated, Malfoy's name still retained its power in the eyes of Slytherin House.
That could've been you, Harry, the voice in the back of his mind said; the voice that had been growing ever so persistent in the last few weeks. The Sorting Hat wanted to put you in Slytherin first but you were afraid. You were afraid of your own power.
Harry turned away from the Slytherins. Was that the real reason of why he'd been so adamant against being put into Slytherin? Then again, if he had been placed there, so many things would be different. The world was free because he'd said no. Also, Voldemort and his evil remained in it.
Look at the price you paid, the voice went on. You can't have a normal life like everyone else. Is it worth it, being the 'good guy'? What has it done for you, Harry, except bring misery?
Harry pressed both heels of his hands to his forehead as he closed his eyes. He couldn't think of any reason that wasn't cliché to give in response. When he truly considered the question, he didn't have an answer. Not one which was 'honorable', at any rate. No, it wasn't worth it. Not for him. Everyone else enjoyed their lives, lives they probably wouldn't be living if it'd not been for Harry Potter. It wasn't fair. And the fight, it seemed to him, was rather pointless. His own parents had died and Voldemort returned.
Careful, or you'll end up just like them. That isn't fair, either, is it?
"Harry, are you all right?"
Harry's eyes opened when he heard Ginny Weasley speaking to him. He lifted his head from his hands and found her standing beside him. She appeared so concerned about him, her eyes filled with worry. More than anything, he wished she would go away.
Ginny glanced from him to the rest of the Gryffindor table. They'd done nothing but talk about poor Harry since they'd sat down. None of them, not even Ron, tried to find out what was wrong. And they called themselves Harry's friends. Her eyes met Harry's once more.
"Why do you care?" he asked when it was obvious that she wouldn't go away. He already knew why. Since the day he'd encountered Ginny on Platform 9 and 3/4 when he was off to his first year at Hogwarts, the youngest Weasley had a crush on him. Even though she denied it these days, she still had it. Everyone knew it, too.
"You've been acting so strangely since this morning," she told him. She sat down on the bit of free space there was next to him. "I thought ... you might like to ... to talk to someone. If you needed to, that is." She let her gaze shy away from his. Her heard pounded just a little faster in her chest whenever she was this close to him.
Stupid girl, the voice said as Harry stared at Ginny's profile. Talk about it? What is there to talk about? She wouldn't be alive if it hadn't been for you. Yes, she's having a fun-filled life, thanks to your sacrifices.
"I don't need to talk about anything, Ginny," he muttered. His hand rose up and his fingers massaged his right temple. The pain had become a dull throb now. "Just go away and leave me alone."
Ginny frowned and her shoulders slumped. "O - okay," she meekly replied. She swallowed hard and felt the sting of hot tears in her eyes. "I - I only wanted to help, Harry."
Help? That's rich. You're the one who saves her worthless life and she believes she can help you?
Harry shook his head then slid his gaze over to Ginny who now stood at his side, preparing to leave. "Wait a second," he said. He didn't know where the words came from. It was as though he wasn't in control of himself anymore and someone else spoke through him.
Ginny's eyes brightened instantly and she turned around. "Yes?" she asked, trying not to sound too hopeful.
"Maybe you're right. Maybe I do need to talk to someone." He watched her features lift upon hearing that. A small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. "If you'll still talk to me."
"Sure I will!" She beamed happily at him. "I'd do anything for you, Harry." She turned a bright shade of red then averted her gaze quickly. She always said the silliest things when around him. No wonder he thought she was ditzy.
"I'll meet you later," he replied. He never took his eyes off of the young girl. She shifted nervously in place, wringing her hands together. We'll see just how much you'd do for me, he added in his head. "Tonight. Just outside of the Hall."
"Tonight?" She bit her lower lip. The Halloween party was that night and it was always so much fun. She glanced around the Hall. The students were leaving for afternoon classes now. She had to make up her mind of what was more important - Harry's problem or the party. "Okay," she said, looking at him. "I'll meet you later."
"Good." His eyes followed her as she left to join the rest of her sixth year friends. Yes, we'll see just how much she'll do for you, Harry. He let his gaze fall to the floor, a swell of guilt rising up inside of him. It wasn't right. Ginny Weasley hadn't done anything wrong in her life. She was the sister of one of his best friends and she trusted him implicitly.
Quit thinking, Harry. It always gets you into trouble.
Pressing his palm to his forehead, he left the table and headed for his first afternoon class.
Later that evening, Ron checked himself over in his mirror. He wanted to look his best and not just because he was a prefect. As he adjusted his robes, he caught sight of Harry in the mirror. Harry sat on the windowsill, leaning against the glass, staring out into the endless darkness. He frowned. He wondered if he should've mentioned Harry to Dumbledore.
It's probably nothing, he thought as he went back to checking himself over. This is a tough day for him.
Harry ignored those he shared his room with while they readied themselves for the Halloween festivities. Leaning against the glass, he gazed downwards. It was so far down, the ground, even if he couldn't see it now.
A strong wind had been blowing since that afternoon and clouds rolled across the sky, hiding the stars and moon. It was so very dark and lonely outside, a vast nothingness with only specks of light from the other towers piercing it.
He slowly turned his head and found Ron, at a safe distance, looking at him. "What?" he flatly asked. He wasn't in the mood for any lecture Ron had to offer or be told that he should apologize to Hermione. All he wanted was to be left alone.
"Were you coming?" Ron's eyebrows arched a little, hopefulness in his eyes. Perhaps if he has some fun, whatever it is will pass. "Should be fun. Maybe you could use it?"
Harry only stared at Ron. Fun? What would he know about what I need? he bitterly thought. He went back to staring out of the window. "I'm busy tonight," he muttered after a few moments.
"All right." Ron's tone was filled with disappointment and also his concern. If he won't go, he won't go. You very well can't force him. "In case you change your mind -"
"Come on, Ron," Seamus said as he leaned into the room. "We'll miss the start!" He glanced at Harry who was curled up by the window. If Harry hadn't been incredibly awful to Hermione earlier, he would've complimented his work on Malfoy.
Ron cast one last glance at Harry then joined Seamus.
Harry heard the door close softly as Ron left and he turned away from the window. He was completely alone again. He wouldn't be for much longer, however.
The excited chatter of her friends as they headed for the Great Hall barely registered with Ginny. Halloween night was always one of the most fun nights of the year at Hogwarts. Except for the year the troll had been let inside the dungeons. She was thankful she hadn't been there for it because she would've been the one Harry and Ron had to rescue, instead of Hermione.
"Are you coming, Ginny?" Colin Creevy asked when Ginny stopped just outside of the Hall. He glanced at the rest of their friends who continued on into the room.
"Huh?" She realized Colin was still with her and he'd spoken. She took another look around for Harry then said, "I've left something in my room. I'll be back when I've found it. Save me a seat?"
"I will." She seemed distracted; he hoped nothing was wrong. "Don't be long," he called after her as she headed back towards the Gryffindor dorms. Apparently, she didn't hear him because she kept going without a word. Sighing, he headed into the already crowded Hall.
Ginny prowled the corridor by the Great Hall. No sign of Harry anywhere. She hoped he'd not changed his mind about talking to her. Wringing her hands together, she paced back and forth, praying that he would show up.
She gasped sharply, whirling around at the same time. She calmed when she saw Harry behind her, then she smiled. "You startled me!"
"I didn't mean to," he apologized. He stepped closer, out of the half-shadows of the corridor. "I've been waiting for you, Ginny. I was beginning to think you weren't going to show."
"You're my friend, Harry, of course I was." The words were sincere. She gazed up at him as she took one of his hands into both of hers. "And you can tell me anything, too. Anything at all."
She was so innocent. Touching, really. He averted his eyes from hers to scan the corridor around them. "I don't feel comfortable doing this here," he quietly said.
"Oh." She gave the matter some thought, frowning slightly. "I suppose we could -" she began but Harry cut her off.
"In the dorms," he said. It was more of an order than a suggestion. "I'd be more at ease in my own room." He met her gaze again. "If we were alone."
"The dorms?" Ginny swallowed. Her heart raced and a mild sweat beaded on her skin. She'd never expected that to come from him, but if that was where he preferred to be, she would comply. "W-well, sure, Harry. I should tell somebody where I'm going to be -"
Harry quickly placed a hand over her mouth to quiet her. He leaned closer, looking deep into her eyes now. "I'd rather you not, Ginny," he told her in a hushed voice. "We wouldn't want to give the others the wrong idea about this."
She shook her head, unable to speak, and not because Harry had his hand over her mouth, either. She'd not been this close to him in a long time and she'd forgotten how weak it made her. Her legs were close to buckling under her. It was a miracle she was still standing.
Harry removed his hand from her mouth, smiling a little. "Good."
I shouldn't be doing this, he thought.
That's what makes it so much fun, the other voice replied.
Inside the Hall, Ron stared at the empty place at the Gryffindor table where Harry usually sat. He wondered if he should go back to the room to check on him. Harry wouldn't like it but it would give Ron a little peace of mind.
"Hey, where's Harry?" someone at their table asked.
"I have a better question," said Hermione as she leaned over to Ron. She pointed down the table to where Colin Creevy and the rest of Ginny's friends were. "Where is Ginny?"
"Harry ..." Ginny breathed, putting both hands on his shoulders, trying to push him away. She was at a disadvantage with her back pressed against Harry's headboard, essentially pinned between the wall and him. "Maybe ... maybe we shouldn't be doing this?" she managed to say before his lips met hers again in a hard kiss.
Upon their arrival in Harry's room, he couldn't keep his hands off of her. As much as she'd dreamed about this day, wanted it more than anything in the world, it felt wrong. She'd wanted to let him talk about what troubled him lately. That wasn't the case, though.
"Harry," she murmured when she broke free from him. Her eyes opened and look into his. She didn't see the Harry she knew in them, all she saw was pain. "I ... I don't feel right about this," she shyly whispered. "It's rather ... strange."
"Are you afraid someone will find us?" he asked, smiling at her. He let his eyes trail down Ginny's form. Her pristine Gryffindor robe was open and hanging off of her shoulders. What was underneath that robe, it wasn't the body of a little girl anymore.
She bit her lower lip as she looked away. "Sort of," she admitted. She couldn't begin to imagine the trouble they would get into if caught. And it wouldn't be good for Ron, either, him being a prefect. If one of the teachers caught them, they would probably get detention for the rest of the school year.
"We won't be caught," he assured her. "No one will miss me, and no one will miss you."
"My friends will," she replied. She squirmed in his grasp when she felt the touch of his fingers against her skin. His hand was under her shirt, caressing her lower back. "And I thought ... I thought you wanted to talk to me?"
"Not really." His other hand rested on her cheek and he made her look at him. "Besides, I thought you said you would do anything for me?"
"Yes, I - I did, but I ..." She didn't know what to say. That hurt look on his face, the obvious distress in his voice - she wanted so much to be the one to ease it. He'd shown her so much kindness over the years. Plus, she loved him. That part of her didn't want to stop what they were doing. She longed to make him happy.
Harry felt Ginny's body relax in his hold and, inwardly, he slyly grinned. The girl trusted him. He'd taken it this far with little resistance from her. How much more would she do for him, if he asked?
Colin turned around. Ron stood by him, concerned about something. "Oh, hi, Ron," he greeted. "What's the matter?"
"Have you seen Ginny?"
"Yes. She was with us when we arrived at the Hall," he answered. "She left something in her room, though, and went back to get it. Can't think of what it might be." He shrugged. "Obviously it was important to her."
Ron nodded, thinking. "It must've been," he absently agreed. He patted Colin's shoulder. "Thanks."
Hermione looked up when Ron returned. "What did he say? Has he seen her?"
"Said she went back to her room to get something," he replied. He sat down next to her, the troubled expression still on his face. He had a horrible feeling in the pit of his stomach.
"I'm sure she'll be back soon," Hermione said with a slight shrug of her shoulders. "You shouldn't worry about her, Ron. What could possibly happen to her in the halls of Hogwarts?"
Ron met her gaze. "You, of all people, have forgotten about the basilisk?"
Hermione's lips pressed together into a thin line. "Perhaps we should make sure she's all right."
Carefully, the two slipped out of the Great Hall without being noticed by anyone - except Draco Malfoy.
Curious as to what the Mudblood and near destitute Weasley boy could be up to, he left the Slytherin table to follow them. Soon, Ron and Hermione stopped at the painting of the Fat Lady who promptly asked for the password. Malfoy ducked into one of the side hallways and peeked around the corner, straining to hear what the two of them said.
"I'll check her room, Ron," Hermione told him as she gestured to herself. "You can't go into the girls' dormitory!"
"I'm a prefect! I can do whatever I want when student safety is concerned," he shot back. He was careful to keep his voice low. Filch and Mrs. Norris could be anywhere in those halls. "Especially if that student is my sister," he added in a more restrained voice.
"I don't care if you are a prefect, Ron," she loudly whispered. "It will only be a minute and I'll be back." Turning to the Fat Lady, she gave the password and the painting swung open for them. "Now you stay here."
"I'm going with you," Ron said as he followed her through the painting. Slowly, the painting closed behind them, cutting off their arguing voices.
Draco narrowed his eyes. Something was happening and he intended to find out what it was. After checking the corridor, he sneaked over to the painting. Upon being asked by the Fat Lady, Draco supplied the password he'd heard Hermione give and the painting opened up again. He found himself in the Gryffindor common room, a common room that was much different than the Slytherin one. This one was homier. Warm. Comforting, even.
Up the nearby stairs, he could hear Ron and Hermione's voices, bickering. He crept halfway up the staircase then stopped when he saw the two of them on the landing above. They stood by a door that led to, what Draco assumed was, the girls' dormitory for Gryffindor. Ron was still insistent about going with Hermione. Soon, she gave in to him and they both disappeared through the door. When they were gone, Draco continued up the staircase.
On the landing, he looked from the door Ron and Hermione had gone through to the other. His eyes narrowed to slits when he recalled how Potter had embarrassed him earlier that day. The need for revenge won out over his curiosity this time. He opened the door and entered the boys' dormitory.
Nearing one of the doors, he heard voices. They were speaking rather softly but he could clearly make out one female and one male. He crept up on the door that was open just a crack. Leaning forward, the Slytherin peered through the door and a noiseless chuckle followed.
"Well, well, Potter," he murmured very quietly when he found Harry ... with Ginny Weasley. He never would've guessed Potter to have that sort of an interest in his best friend's sister. How could he argue with his own eyes - the two of them, together and alone, in a passionate embrace? It made him rather sick.
How great it would be, though, to walk in on Potter and the girl. Such an infraction could make for interesting blackmail. Or better yet, make up for how Harry had humiliated him that day. Lips curling into a devious smile, he imagined the embarrassment he could bring about for not only Potter but for all of Gryffindor. What a scandal all this could be, if he played it right.
Inside the room, Ginny was beginning to imagine the worst. Not about Harry, but about being found. They'd been gone for some time now. Colin expected her to return to the Hall. If she didn't, someone would come looking for her. She was about to suggest that they go back yet before she had the chance, Harry let go of her. For no apparent reason, he'd stopped. He now sat on his bed, half-turned so Ginny could only see his profile.
"Harry?" she carefully asked. A hand brushed through her disheveled hair, trying to put it back into place. Clutching her robe closed with one hand, she placed the other on one of Harry's arms. "Are you okay? Is ... did I ... do something wrong?"
Draco leaned back a bit, to avoid being seen by the two Gryffindors inside the room. Potter's face was clearly visible to him as was Ginny's. She was upset by the abruptness of what had happened. Potter, on the other hand, was more conflicted. Like he was troubled by something.
Harry rested his elbows on his knees, his hands pressed to his forehead as he leaned over. He squeezed his eyes shut. Hearing Ginny's soft, pleasured sighs while he kissed her, it made him rethink what he'd planned to do. She trusted him.
Do it, the voice urged. You won't know until you do it, Harry. Are you truly a Slytherin, a soul destined for greatness? Or are you a Gryffindor, a pathetic idiot whose already miserable life can only end in a horrific death? Come on, Potter. What's it going to be? How is this going to end?
Draco watched Harry lift up his head from his hands. Potter had the same look on his face as he did that morning. His gaze slid over to Ginny. The stupid girl's lower lip trembled as she stared down at the bed.
"I'm not sure about who I can trust anymore, Ginny," Harry finally said. The decision had been made. He looked over to Ginny. "I feel lost. No one, not even Ron, could understand how I feel."
Ginny scooted next to Harry and she placed her hand on his arm again. "You can trust me, Harry," she softly said. Finally, he was going to open up to her and tell her what bothered him. "You can tell me anything. I promise, I'll keep it secret."
"You can say things like that, Ginny," he replied, shaking his head solemnly. "But this is something big. I have to be sure it won't leave this room."
Draco's ears perked. Potter had a deep, dark secret to tell? That might even be more useful than the current situation. He waited and listened.
Ginny leaned closer. "I won't breathe a single word to anyone, Harry," she promised. "Please ... tell me what's bothering you."
Harry stood and made his way to the window he'd been staring out of earlier. He opened the panes of glass allowing the chilly night air to blow into the room. Taking in a deep breath, he leaned against the wall and took in the dark night sky.
"I'm ... I'm not sure I can trust you, Ginny," he replied.
"You can!" she declared as she rose to her feet. She joined him by the window. "I've always been here for you. I'll always be. What do I have to do to prove that to you? Tell me. I'll do anything."
He took an interest in edge of his open robe, massaging the fabric between his thumb and forefinger. "Anything?" he casually asked.
He faced her. "Would you jump from this window?"
Ginny stared at him. She blinked several times and she shook her head. Had he really said what she thought he had? Jump from the window?
Draco was just as surprised as Ginny. He pressed himself against the wall, peeking through the crack to see well. The both of them stood in front of the open window, facing each other. Potter's gone off his trolley, he thought.
"You ... want me to ... jump out of the window?" Ginny's eyes were wide. It was even more unbelievable when she said the words aloud. "Isn't that extreme? I'd be killed!"
Harry laughed. "I don't mean it like that!" He brought out his wand, raising it up between them. He smiled at her. "I wouldn't let you fall, Ginny. Do you think I'm nuts?"
Ginny looked from his wand to him. "I don't understand how this will prove that you can trust me."
"Because you said you would do anything for me, Ginny." His wand lowered to his side. "Did you lie to me when you said that?"
Her mouth opened but no response came forth. She managed to shake her head.
"You prove that wasn't a lie and I'll share what's been bothering me with you." He closed the space between them, his voice dropping to a quiet tone. "You're not afraid of me, are you, Ginny?"
She glanced at the wand in his hand again. "No, I'm not," she whispered.
"And do you trust me?"
She nodded. "Of course I do."
"If you trust me and would do anything for me, you'll do this." He placed a finger underneath her chin and tilted her head back so she looked at him once more. "I would never hurt you, Ginny."
Draco was on the edge of his proverbial seat while he waited to hear what the Weasley girl would do. Whatever had gotten into Potter lately, he was certainly a more interesting individual because of it.
If you say no, he won't talk to you, Ginny thought as she gazed at Harry. If you say yes, you must be crazy. Jump from the window? What on earth even possessed him to say such a thing? She sighed heavily. You have to decide. It is Harry. He's done nothing but help people since you've known him. Why would he hurt you?
"Okay," she weakly answered. "I'll do whatever you want, Harry."
Bloody hell, she's going to do it! Draco couldn't believe it. He watched, nearly wide eyed himself, as Ginny gripped the edge of the window with her hand. After a pause, she hauled herself onto the ledge.
Harry stepped back a few paces, his wand still in his hand but it was behind his back now. "Whenever you're ready, Ginny," he calmly said with a grin on his face.
Draco heard sounds coming from the way he'd entered the dorm. Somebody would be there soon. Any punishment was worth witnessing the outcome of this, though.
The cold wind whipped Ginny's open robe behind her and her hair seemed to float when caught by the breeze. Her legs trembled but not because of the cold. "You'll protect me, Harry?" she asked, voice shaky. She blinked as she gripped the sides of the window tightly.
Draco saw Harry tuck his wand back underneath his robe, the smile on his face growing wider as he did so. The sound of a door opening, that which Harry and Ginny couldn't hear, caught Draco's attention. Ron's voice, words inaudible, followed.
"Of course I'll protect you, Ginny," Harry said as he fastened the front of his robe. "Don't I always?"
Closing her eyes, she took in two deep breaths to calm herself. He'll protect me. He always has. He won't let me get hurt. He won't. She put out one foot, letting it hang in mid-air.
Then she stepped.
Her shrill scream as she plummeted from the window nearly cracked Malfoy's eardrums. He didn't have a chance to react to anything because Ron came barreling by him, screaming out Ginny's name.
"GINNY! GINNY!" He rushed to the open window and leaned out. "GINNY!"
"Oh no!" Hermione ignored the fact that Malfoy was even present as she entered the room. Ron hung out of the window, still screaming his sister's name. "Ron!" She grabbed his arm, pulling on him so he wouldn't fall. "Where is she? Ron? Where's Ginny?"
"Ginny!" Tears welled up in Ron's eyes as Hermione attempted to talk to him. His sister was gone. He knew that was her scream. She was gone. Gone. "She's ... she's ..." He couldn't say the words. The shock was too much already.
Hermione whirled around. "What happened?" she shouted at Harry. She crossed the room, and when she reached him, she drew her wand. Somehow, she managed to refrain from using it on him. "What did you do to her, Harry? What did you do?"
Malfoy stepped into the room. "He didn't do anything to her," he stated. He glanced over to Ron who was crumpled into a heap by the open window, tears streaming down his face.
Hermione turned her wand on Malfoy. "And what would you know about it?" she demanded. "How did you even get in here, Malfoy?"
Draco held up his hands, his eyes regarding Hermione's wand warily. "I followed you and Weasley earlier. Decided to pay Potter a visit since I'd managed to get inside." He looked at Harry. "I was outside of the door the entire time."
Harry went pale for a moment upon learning Malfoy had heard everything.
"And what happened?" Hermione demanded, taking a step closer to Draco.
"She was suicidal." Draco's eyes never left Harry's as he spoke. "Crying about how she couldn't go on living her life. Pathetic, really."
Hermione eyed Draco with suspicion. Her hand gripped her wand tightly. "Are you saying she jumped on her own?"
"Yes." Draco looked at Hermione with disdain. "Potter tried to stop her. He was too late, though."
Hermione lowered her wand a little then turned to look at Harry. "Is that true?"
"Oh, come on, girl!" Draco snorted. He held up his hands again when Hermione whirled around, her wand pointed directly in his face once again. He gestured to Harry. "Look at who you're asking! Would the great hero, Harry Potter, let some silly git leap out of a window if he could've prevented it?"
Again, Hermione's wand lowered. She turned back to Harry. She couldn't decipher the expression on his face. Perhaps he was in shock from it, if Draco spoke the truth about what had taken place. For the first time, she actually believed something Draco Malfoy had said.
She looked from Draco to Harry then she let her guard down. Forgetting them both, she sat down on the floor with Ron and tried to comfort him. "It'll be all right, Ron," she said, her own voice choked with tears now. She wrapped her arms around him, holding him close. "It'll be all right."
Harry's gaze shifted from Ron and Hermione to Draco. Why did he make up the cover story like that? Of all the people at Hogwarts, Draco would've been the first to run to Dumbledore and tell what had really happened.
A ghost of a smile crossed Malfoy's lips, and his cold eyes glinted.
With that, Harry had his answer. To more than one question, too. He looked back to the open window. He was responsible for the death of poor, innocent Ginny Weasley.
And he felt nothing for it.